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Zoo chief on hot seat over resume

Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium commentary:
If Zoo director Ron Kagan is fired by the Detroit Zoo Board, he will not be missed by this organization. It was his recommendation to the Detroit Administration that was responsible for the closure of the Detroit Zoo. Later, his insistence to sterilize the beloved Belle Isle Deer population led to the heard being incarcerated behind eight foot high fences, effectively isolating them from the public.
Finally, his recommendation to close the Belle Isle Aquarium left the city and State without a public aquarium.
Now we find that he is unqualified to have held such a position of responsibility. We are shocked and outraged.

The Detroit News

Zoo chief on hot seat over resume
Board will determine Kagan's fate, including possible firing, over fudging of his Ph.D.



Ron Kagan


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ROYAL OAK -- Ron Kagan, the longtime director of the Detroit Zoo, could face disciplinary action, including possible firing, over accusations that he lied on his resume about having a doctorate degree.

"I feel terrible. It's difficult to face now," the 55-year-old Kagan said Thursday after admitting he lied on his resume.

"I'm sorry and I know it's damaged the zoo."

The resume flap began June 21 when members of the Detroit Zoo Society's board of directors received an anonymous faxed letter stating that Kagan had misrepresented his academic qualifications, said Patricia Mills, zoo spokeswoman.

The nine-person executive committee of the zoo's board of directors is scheduled to meet today to decide whether to recommend action to the full board, said Gail Warden, the chairman of the board of directors for the Zoological Society.

Kagan could lose his $175,000-a-year job, be suspended or be forced to take a cut in pay, Warden said.

"Initially I was skeptical because it was an anonymous letter but at the same time, we had to pursue it," he said.

Kagan began work on his doctorate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem during the mid-1980s. Kagan said he thought he was finished and when he realized that he was 99 percent done, he went back in the early 1990s to try to wrap up talks with his advisers about getting it completed. He said he thought his work was completed, but later learned that one of his two advisers had not signed off on his thesis.

"I went back to try to get it signed, sealed and delivered. At one point, I gave up. I should have gone back," Kagan said. "I didn't close the deal."

Warden said the zoo director's job does not require a doctorate. He said there will be many factors that will be considered in the discussions about whether Kagan will lose his job.

"You have to take into consideration his track record, (his) many, many accomplishments and the impact it would have on the community if we ask him to step down," Warden said.

"There are a large number of people who support him who think it would be egregious to terminate him, but there are others would argue the integrity" of the zoo, he added.

The resume controversy comes at a "critical time" for the zoo, Warden said. He said the zoo will soon be asking voters for a millage that would fund $8 million to $10 million in operating revenues.

Kagan holds a bachelor's degree in zoology that he received in 1975 from the University of Massachusetts. In 1980, he received a master's degree from Hebrew University, Mills said.

Warden said he has reviewed all of Kagan's credentials since last Thursday and that the zoo has hired an independent investigator to help the zoo in its probe of the allegations.

Kagan said he will honor the decision of the zoo's board of directors.

"The only thing I've ever wanted to do is fight for the zoo," said Kagan. "I want to do that as long as the community wants me to."

Kagan was appointed zoo director in December 1992 by then-Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. He has received praises from animal rights groups and others for his new zoo exhibits and decisions regarding older animals.

But Detroit City Councilman Kenneth Cockrel Jr., an appointed member of the zoo board, said he has "mixed feelings" about whether Kagan should stay on the job in light of the resume flap.

He said the controversy might hamper fundraising efforts because of credibility issues.

"Having his credibility and integrity called into question would affect fundraising efforts, so it's an issue," said Cockrel as he made his way to a private event at the zoo Thursday evening.

Kagan was scheduled to give remarks during the affair.

Cockrel said he would withhold judgment until the outcome of the probe by an independent attorney. He, however, praised Kagan as being one of the best zoo directors in the nation and world, although he said he didn't agree with his decisions to close the Belle Isle Zoo and the Belle Isle Aquarium.

"He has done a tremendous job," Cockrel said.

You can reach Oralandar Brand-Williams at (313) 222-2027 or bwilliams@detnews.com.

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